Voters in the state of Massachusetts on Tuesday legalized recreational marijuana beginning in 2018. The move is expected to fuel debate on whether Connecticut will soon follow.
The Massachusetts ballot measure was approved by 53 to 47 percent, with about 97 percent of the vote counted.
California and Nevada also legalized recreational pot. Arizona defeated the measure and a vote on legalizing recreational pot in Maine was too close to call as of Wednesday night, though proponents were claiming victory with about 2 percent of the vote left to count.
Two weeks ago, a New Haven state representative said a neighboring state’s ballot question on legalizing recreational marijuana means it’s time for Connecticut to get moving on the same initiative.
New Haven Democratic Rep. Juan Candelaria, who has unsuccessfully lobbied for recreational marijuana legislation in Connecticut in the past, said he is confident that the outcome will be different in 2017.
Candelaria said the fact that voters in nearby Massachusetts have joined a growing list of states to legalize recreational marijuana is fueling his sense of urgency.
“We have a fiscal crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Candelaria said. “Do we want to see tax money that we so desperately need leaving our state and being spent in Massachusetts? No, we don’t.”
Candelaria noted that even though Massachusetts’ voters have passed the marijuana initiative, the first legal, recreational pot sale is not expected to occur until January 2018 at the earliest.
“We have an opportunity,” Candelaria said, “to beat Massachusetts to the punch if we move quickly on this. We can be in business — first.”
Candelaria said the reason he is optimistic is because, “Frankly, Connecticut is ready. Polls show the majority of Connecticut people want to see this happen.”
A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in March 2015 found 63 percent of voters support legalization.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who successfully pushed for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in 2011 and legalizing the medical use of marijuana in 2012, hasn’t supported legalizing recreational use in the past.
Malloy, two days before Election Day when asked about whether it is time for Connecticut to consider legalizing recreational marijuana, answered: “I’ve done my part — with medical and decriminalization.”
“Never say never,’’ said Malloy, “but I’d rather not. I think legalizing it encourages it. It is not my priority.”
Asked whether priorities may change since Connecticut residents will be able to go across the border and buy pot in Massachusetts, Malloy conceded that could change the conversation.
“We already have people buying liquor at the border,” said Malloy, noting that alcohol is cheaper to purchase in Massachusetts than Connecticut. “Why wouldn’t you want to be near (selling pot) that liquor (Yankee Spirits) store in Sturbridge?
“We’ll look at all that stuff. I won’t say Wednesday,” said Malloy. “Maybe Thursday or Friday.”
But Malloy stressed that he’d have to be convinced, adding that states that “rushed” to approve recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, are having “second thoughts” about the accompany law enforcement and other problems legalization brings.
Candelaria said when he looked into recreational marijuana a few years ago, his research told him that “Connecticut could generate about $50 million in the first year of operation; $100 million-plus in the second year.”
Candelaria and fellow New Haven state Rep. Toni Walker hosted an informational seminar on recreational marijuana at the state capitol in April — even though both state representatives made it clear at the time that they weren’t planning to push for legislation in the 2016 General Assembly session.
Walker, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s budget-writing committee, has said the revenue generated from a tax on marijuana would be deposited in the state’s General Fund, and some of it would be diverted for drug awareness education and efforts to curb abuse of opiates, alcohol, and other harmful substances.
The number of patients in the state of Connecticut receiving medical marijuana treatment keeps growing, now at 13,440, according to Department of Consumer Protection Deputy Commissioner Michelle Seagull.
In the past legislative session, a bill became law giving children under the age of 18 access to non-smokeable medical marijuana.
The new law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, gives minors with severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses access to marijuana after the approval of two doctors.
California voters approving legalizing recreational marijuana on Tuesday means the largest state in the country now has hopped on board the recreational marijuana train.
“Today is a good day for the cannabis community and a good day for all Californians,” said Steve DeAngelo, longtime activist, industry leader, and co-founder of Harborside, one of the nation’s largest cannabis dispensaries.
“A law that never should have been enacted is over, and a valuable plant that never should have been illegal will once again be freely available,” said DeAngelo.
“For the millions unjustly arrested, it’s a chance to clear their names and restore their reputations,” DeAngelo said. “For all Californians, it’s progress toward a more tolerant, inclusive and equitable way of life; and for prisoners of cannabis in other states and all around the globe, it’s a promise that change is coming. I started working for legalization in 1974. It feels like I ran a 42-year marathon and won the race.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.